Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hawaiian Baby Quilt

I posted about this quilt here when I made the top. I donated one to the Power of the Quilt Project, and the top of this one went in a box. A few months ago I was going through my UFOs and matching them with backings. I dug up a perfect tropical print, and I finished the quilt. It is going to be for my first grandchild. I don't have any grandchildren right now, and my kids are 16 and 20. But someday! I got most of the fabric with Peter on a trip to Hawaii in 1991.

This is the back (no label yet, typical). I found this tropical print years ago. I just liked it; it was an impulse purchase. I think Cathy was a baby then, so it was about 20 years ago. It sat folded in a bin with other large pieces of fabric all that time, waiting for me to attach it to its soul mate.

Friday, December 12, 2014

This was on my list of things to not do.

But I went ahead and did it anyway. I had 548 3-inch squares that I wanted to use up. I found this design while browsing images and decided it would be the best. It was complicated but straightforward, so I will give directions below. The squares were what was left from a box of three-inch strips that I've used to make a few other quilts, this one and two not finished.

After I wrote this post I went back to the internet to see if I could find the image that inspired me, and I discovered the name of the block is granny square, like the crochet pattern of the same name.

Directions (read them all first)

These are directions for making a quilt top. I intend to trim the sides and add a border, but there are other possibilities. It is about 64 inches square. If you use smaller squares you will get a smaller quilt.

At first I thought I should make individual blocks, surrounded by black diamonds, trim them square and sew them together. Then the black diamonds would be triangles sewn together. In fact, there are many directions on the internet that tell you to do exactly this. But I did it in a more complicated way for two reasons. First, I don't like the idea of throwing away bits of fabric. Second, sewing is tedious, and if it's complicated, it's more interesting. A third reason would be that sewing blocks together like this would introduce the difficulty of matching points at a place where six seams come together. Other people work around this by adding sashing. The benefits of working with individual blocks are that the blocks can be more easily arranged, sewing the blocks together is straightforward, and you avoid the problem of the top being skewed, which can happen when you sew all of the squares together in one diagonal direction and all of the rows in the other.

There are a few things that you have to have or be able to do if you want to make this top.

First and foremost, you should have experience and the usual set of quilting tools including an ironing board. You need have made a quilt top before.

Second, you must have some combination of patience, skill and doggedness. If you have patience but average skill and serenity that should be enough. But if you don't have patience then you will need both skill and doggedness, because sewing this thing together is tedious and prone to problems. The problems can be avoided if you're patient or extremely skilled.

Third, you need a design wall. I put a piece of felt on the wall with push pins and tape.

Fourth, you need to be able to make precise quarter-inch seams. Unless you have some reason to piece this by hand, you should have and know how to use a 1/4 inch presser foot accurately. If you don't sew this top together precisely, then it will be skewed. Mine is slightly skewed in the picture, but it will straighten out when I iron it. If your long seams are wider than the seams used to sew the squares together, you will not end up with a square quilt. If you don't understand this or don't feel confident that you can avoid this problem, you may be very disappointed with the outcome and should use a different method.

Fifth, you have to have enough squares. You will need 36 sets of 8 light to medium squares, 36 sets of 4 light, medium and dark squares that look good together with the sets of 8 squares, and 36 single squares for the middle for a total of 494 squares. You will also need 217 black squares. You can use a color other than black, just make sure the sets of 8 aren't the same color. If you want to cut your squares from lengths of fabric rather than use up a motley collection, just choose whatever colors you like.

I sorted my squares by color first, and then for each color I tried to find groups of 8. There were very few of these, so I also made groups of 8 from squares that were very similar in color and value (light or dark). I sorted the squares that couldn't be made into groups of 8 into groups of 4. A few didn't end up in any group, so I left these aside for the middles. When I was done with this step, I had many more groups of 4 than groups of 8, so I had to go through the groups of 4 again and find sets that matched less well. Then I sorted by color and value again. My work table was a bit of a mess at this point, so I matched the groups of 8 and groups of 4 in two passes. First, I sorted the groups of 8 by light and medium cool colors (green, blue, purple, black and gray). I sorted the groups of 4 by light, medium and dark cool colors. Then I was able to match the groups in a way that I liked. I did the same thing with the warm colors (red, orange, brown, yellow and white). Once I had all sets of 8 and 4 together, I arranged the squares into a block (Step 1) and chose a middle square.

Step 1. Arrange the squares into blocks, one by one. Lay out the 8 outer squares and the 4 inner squares, and choose a nice square for the middle. If my squares were "busy" then I put a busy square in the middle to make the busyness look OK. If my squares were all the same or subtle then I put a boring square in the middle to not steal the show. Other choices are possible - be creative!

Important: Unless you have another workable idea of how to put this thing together it is important in this step to lay the blocks out in the direction they will have in the final quilt. The instructions that follow assume you will not rotate the blocks when you are arranging them.

As you arrange the squares into blocks, stack them as show in the picture. The next step can be done faster if all the squares you have to sew together are in stacks.

Step 2. Sew the squares in the blocks together in one direction only. All the squares will have to be sewn to each other in one direction first, and you can't do this until you have arranged all the blocks on the design wall. So the blocks will go on the design wall in strips. At this stage add a black square to the right side of each strip of squares.

Important: Sew pairs of squares first. Press all seams to the upper right. Then sew together 2 or 3 of the pairs to make the long rows, and press all those seams to the lower left. Then each square will either have its seams both pressed out or both pressed in. The reasons for doing it this way are that all the seams will interlock when sewing long strips of squares together, and all black squares will have seams pressed in, which is what you want to have happen.

Step 3. Arrange the blocks on the design wall, keeping the five rows of each block together and oriented the same way. You might be able to do better than I did to start, with same colors bunched. Notice I have a few black squares missing. I had run out of solid black and hadn't been to the quilt store yet.
Step 4. Rearrange the blocks in a pleasing manner. Ask your friends and family if you need help. For instance, my husband told me that I should not have the two green blocks together in the third row. My daughter told me the squares of two blocks were wrong, so at this point I went to my stash and cut exactly 3 squares to "fix" two of the blocks.

I actually took the picture from step 3, printed it out large on photo paper, and cut it into small squares, numbered on the back. Then I arranged the blocks the way I liked using the pieces cut from the photo and used the result to rearrange what I had on the design wall. Then I made some additional changes to get my final layout.

I learned everything I know about composition from my late great quilting teacher Kathleen Weinheimer. She taught me that you don't want the viewer's eyes stuck in the corners or the middle of the quilt, so I put more sedate blocks in these locations. I didn't put any of the really bright blocks along the sides, either. I didn't originally intend for my lightest blocks to form a sort of pinwheel, but when I shifted some blocks to get that result, I could tell it worked.

Step 5. Very important. Take a picture of your final arrangement. If you don't end up needing it, I bow to your Olympian skill level.

The next 5 steps describe how I sewed the squares into diagonal strips of varying lengths. Of course there are many ways to do this, so if you have some idea of how you would like to do it yourself, skip these steps. You will end up with short strips on the upper left and lower right, and long strips in the middle that extend from lower left to upper right. Please, please, please keep putting your strips back on the design wall as you go, otherwise you might end up sending bad feelings my way.

Step 6. Sew short strips together between vertically adjacent blocks. In this picture, I have removed one column of short strips to sew them together, so that you can see which ones I mean. Do this for all six columns. Continue to press the seams so that you have alternate squares with both seams pressed out or both seams pressed in. All of these short strips (omitting those on the top and bottom) should now be joined into strips of six squares each. Put them back on the design wall right away!

Step 7. Sew strips together between adjacent columns. In this picture, I have already sewn together the strips in columns 1 and 2 and have removed the strips in columns 3 and 4. Press the seams as before, and put the strips back on the design wall.

Step 8. Now sew together the strips from the first two and the second two columns, press and replace.

Step 9. Add the strips from the last two columns in the same way.

Step 10. Add a black square to the lower end of every strip, and press seams out. Add a black square to the upper left and lower right corners.

The next five steps describe how to sew together the diagonal strips. Again, if you know how you would like to do this, you can skip these steps.

Step 11. Sew together pairs of strips, carefully. First of all, in this step it is easy to sew two adjacent strips together on the wrong side. Another potential pitfall is to get the offset wrong - all pairs of strips will have different numbers of squares in them. So make sure you are sewing the strips together the right way. I did this twice and had to pick out four seams. I was lucky they were short seams, otherwise I would have had to be extremely dogged to finish this. Which I am, but it's no fun. To avoid mistakes, it helps a lot to have the picture of the layout handy.

Second, make sure your seams are precisely 1/4 inch. If you have any doubt, err on the scant side. Use a ruler to measure squares that don't look right, and if the finished side of the square isn't what you should have (2 1/2 inches in my case), do the seam over. Press all seams towards the shorter strip. Aside from being easier, this will help in two ways. The long seams will interlock when you are sewing panels together, and the seams will be pressed towards the black squares at the ends of each row.

In this step, I did not use pins. I used the interlocking nature of the alternating seam allowances to align my squares.

One thing I like to do is to sew strips together in ever-widening panels. That is, I like to sew pairs of strips together first, then pairs of pairs, then pairs of four strips, then pairs of eight strips, etc., until I only have two large pieces to sew together. But in order to do this, I have to start with exactly 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc. strips. This quilt top had 37 strips including the two black squares. What I did then was to sew as many pairs as I could to begin with (18 plus one left over), and then I sewed together some of the smaller strips in the upper left and lower right corners until I had exactly 16 sets of strips. I ended up with two triangular panels on the upper left and lower right and 14 sets of strip pairs inbetween.

Step 12. Sew together the 16 sets of strips to make 8 panels. At this point I started using pins. You might not have to, but it helps me a lot. I line up the edges by interlocking the adjacent long seams, and I line up the squares by interlocking the short seams. Continue to press seams towards the shorter pieces, away from the center diagonal.

Step 13. Sew together pairs of 8 panels to make 4 panels.

In this picture, I have sewn together two panels to make the triangle on the left, and the large triangle on the right consists of four panels. The gap is the two panels that are about to be put together in this step.

Step 14. Sew together the 4 panels in pairs to make two panels.
 Step 15. Sew the two halves together. Press open and take a picture!

I plan to finish this quilt later, because as the title of this blog indicates, not only was this project not on my list of things to do, it was on my list of things not to do. What I have in mind is something I've done before. I will sandwich what you see here and machine quilt in the ditch so that the squares are free of stitches. Then I'll quilt pieces for a border separately, and attach them after they're quilted, hiding the joints with bias binding strips.

Finally, here's what I had left over. I had made 38 blocks, and I pulled out my two kids' favorites, which I will set aside for a future sampler quilt like this one and this one. And the rest - well, I just did my best. I don't have a collection of 3-inch squares anymore, and I don't want to start one anytime soon. I have a whole bunch of 2 1/2 inch squares and strips that I have to deal with first.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Scrappy blue and green knitted "Quilt"

I used the blue and green yarn that has accumulated in the bins for the church knitting group, plus some neutrals, and came up with this, for the Greater Boston Project Linus, which gives blankets to premature babies and kids in tough circumstances. Note the improvised sections. It took a few train rides and meetings to finish each row of "quilt blocks" over the course of two months.

Strip Quilt 2 (under construction)

I really would like to finish this quilt soon. I had 32 strips sewn together in pairs, and then it sat like that for months. Meanwhile I joined the Rhododendron Needlers' Quilt Guild in Walpole, Massachusetts, about 20 minutes from home. I haven't been in a guild for many years. We have a show coming up in March, so I pulled out all of my unfinished projects to see what I could do before then. I found, among the quilt tops, enough 3 inch strips to add one more stripe, the bottom bright orange one, which makes a big difference and improves the design. So, it was like, the quilt was telling me don't touch me until you find those strips, because I need them to be complete. Then about halfway through finishing the assembly, I felt like it was important to get the next project out of the box and lay it out on the floor. There was a mysterious reason, but I just thought, "Silly me, I need to finish the strip quilt, what was I thinking," so I left the next project out and kept working on what you see. At the top of the picture is the measuring tape (view from the upstairs balcony). I want to sew it right onto the batting rather than quilt it, so it had to be cut into a rectangle, and for that to happen, I had to make sure the diagonals were the same length. Then I measured the length and realized I was about five inches short with the backing, because cotton fabric shrinks in the wash. What could I do to extend the backing? The answer was immediately obvious. Use the fabric I had just dragged out of the closet for the purpose of finishing the next thing, which I was not about to do. It turns out that the border fabric for the next project matched the backing fabric perfectly (different pattern, same colors), and that after cutting the border pieces, I had just enough left over to extend the backing the right amount. So really, the fabric was in charge of the process. I was just some kind of servant.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rainbow Strip Quilt I

So this was made from a bit less than half of what was in the box of 3 inch strips. I finished this today in time to put it on Cathy's bed before she gets back from the anime convention in Baltimore. It's the right size for a twin bed, too big for me to quilt it on the sewing machine, so I hand quilted in the ditch. Started in May this year. Not bad!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shirt Pinwheels

I finished this quilt about two weeks ago. I started it a long time ago. It's mostly made out of old shirts, mine and Peter's, and a few odds and ends that matched the shirt fabrics. I designed the layout using handmade PostScript files that I would send to my late great laser printer. That was back in the early 1990s. It's big, about 80 x 96 inches. Something this big has to be hand-quilted. There were a few years when I put in a lot of time on it for a month or so. Then I would just fold it back up and let it sit in its unfinished place for a year or more at a time. But there really wasn't much left to do, and I had to write a paper, so of course I found time to finish it.

Originally I had cut two dark and two light squares for each pinwheel, and placed dark to light with right sides together. I drew a diagonal line on the back of the light fabric and sewed a seam on each side of the diagonal while feeding the squares continuously through the sewing machine. Then I cut along the diagonal so that I had two long chains of what we call half-square triangles. I pressed open the triangles of one chain and sewed them together to make half of 120 pinwheels. Then I started another project as usual. Eventually Cathy, who was two or three years old, found the second chain of triangles. She took one end and walked around the sewing room, under chairs and tables, winding the very long string of little pennants around everything including around itself a few times. It took me days to sort it out. Soon after that I finished the top and started quilting it. That was about 15 years ago. Meanwhile check out the rest of the blog and see some of what I did in the meantime.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hand stitching a binding

Sewing down the binding is the last step in making a quilt, as far as I'm concerned. A label is an attachment to a finished quilt, and so is a hanging sleeve. When I've finished sewing the binding down, I have a finished product! This is why it's one of my favorite tasks in the whole process, even though it's relatively time-consuming.

Making the binding and attaching it to the quilt comes first. I found many, many instructions on the internet about how to do this, but not much about hand-sewing the binding. If you want to know how to make a binding and sew it on to the quilt, look for directions for attaching a continuous bias binding with mitered corners. You have to start with that to get the results that follow. In terms of other ways to sew down the binding, this link points to instructions that are very comprehensive. But I skip some steps. So I'm going to start sewing down a binding right now and take pictures as I go.

One difference between my way and other methods is that I usually don't sew down the little diagonal overlap at the corners. This might be a drawback if your quilt is being judged, but I have made many quilts, and the binding always stays put even when I run them through the washing machine.

I use a needle, thread, and scissors. I find it unnecessary to pin the binding down. If it helps, go ahead. I know people who do that, and it works for them. I don't press the binding flat before I start, either. I just wrap it around tightly as I go. I use a medium needle called a "sharp," thin but longer than a hand quilting needle, because the stitches don't really need to be that close together.

The Directions

(Instructions refer to the pictures below them.)

The binding is sewn down with a blind stitch. With the needle threaded and the thread knotted, start in the middle of one side. Pull the binding out flat with your left hand (that is, if you're right handed, otherwise these images are reversed). Poke the needle under the backing fabric a short distance away from the seam and come up just outside of the machine stitching.

Pull the thread just tight enough so that the knot is pulled under the backing fabric, but not so tight that it comes out the other end. Then fold the binding over tightly (use both hands to do this) and start by making a very small stitch on the edge of the binding.

Again tightly wrap the binding around, keeping the edge of the quilt flat. Take about a 3/8" stitch under the backing fabric. The needle should go into the fabric at the same place where the thread comes out of the binding, then straight up through the batting along the edge of the binding. Take another very small stitch just at the edge of the binding where the needle comes out and pull the whole thing tight. Repeat this step until you come to a corner or tie a knot. The goal is to hide the machine stitching, so the blind stitch should be on the side of the machine stitching towards the inside of the quilt.

Something that helps is to use the tip of the needle to pack the edge of the backing fabric tightly against the fold of the binding.

When you approach a corner, tuck the corner of the batting and backing as far into the binding as you can. The corner of the top, batting and backing fabric should not have to be folded at all.

Then fold over the rest of the binding for this edge and pull the binding for the next edge out flat.

Arrange to have the second-to-last stitch before the turn start right where the two machine stitched lines meet and come out just beyond the edge of the batting.

Now make one more stitch by poking the needle between the two layers of the binding, and with a small stitch, catch the point where the edge of the binding turns.

Make another small stitch in the same place, and before pulling it tight, thread the needle through the loop to make a little knot.

Turn the quilt and fold the binding of the new edge over. The first stitch will be a small stitch in place.

The next stitch should start in the same place. Proceed with the blind stitch.

By the way, that seam in the binding that you can see under the needle is a mistake. I should have figured out that a seam would end up right at the corner, and shifted the binding before I started sewing it on. But only a quilt judge would ever notice.

To tie a knot, make a small stitch in the same place where the thread comes out. Before pulling it tight, thread the needle through the loop. Repeat once more, then put the needle into the backing fabric in the same place, guide it through the batting and come out through the edge of the quilt. Carefully pull the thread tight and clip it close to the binding. The end should disappear back into the quilt.

Start again with a new piece of thread. The whole process takes a number of hours, depending on the size of the quilt. There are faster ways to do this, but this is how I do it, and at least one quilt judge has approved of my worksmanship. If these instructions are unclear or could be improved in any way, please leave a comment.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Different Kind of Craft

For Cindy's birthday on Thursday, I made strawberry and raspberry parfaits. They were actually better than usual because I didn't scrimp on the raspberries. Then today I made a cake for when she had her friends over. I make this cake every year, but this was the first time I actually used cake flour, which is what the recipe says to use. It turned out just right. Both of these recipes are from Cook's Illustrated. They figure out the best way to make everything.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Winter Knitting

I don't know if this scarf is technically winter knitting - I don't remember when I started it or when I finished it. It was approximately last fall into winter, so I'll say it counts.
The sweater below was started and finished this winter. It's for Cindy's birthday, which is tomorrow. I have to say a few words about this sweater. It's knit in a beautiful Noro yarn that I saw at the yarn store in Rockport, Maine when we went on the last knitting cruise. I ordered five skeins online. Every skein had at least one knot, and the pattern was broken at the knots. So I carefully took apart all the skeins and wrote down the colors of each piece, and I was able to get the front and back to repeat the pattern continuously (though they did not match). Then with what was left, I arranged the sleeves to look approximately the same and more or less continuous. I only had a few feet of yarn left when the sweater was finished. It was tricky, but the result is just what I wanted. I sure hope my girl likes it.
Finally here is a red scarf. I thought winter would surely be over by the time I finished it, which was a couple of weeks ago. No such luck. A few words about this scarf, and the orange one above. They are knitted along the long edge on circular needles, always starting at the same side, leaving enough at each end for a six inch fringe. Fringes are knotted together every four rows. Every other stitch is slipped purlwise with yarn forward, alternating slipped stitches on alternate rows. It's called linen stitch, and it's very easy, though it looks bad if you accidentally slip the stitch with the yarn back. Also impossible to fix if you get out of sync with the slipped stitches. Then it has to be un-knitted. I used leftover sock yarn and very small needles for both scarves, casting on 450 stitches.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finally, a Quilt

I started this quilt who knows when. The last project of my own that I was working on in the Coastal Quilt Artists group at Bobbie Sullivan's house was the Sunset Watercolor quilt (which I finished at the very end of the 2011 UFO challenge). That was about ten years ago. I had a lot of leftover blocks, and I arranged them into sixteen 16-patch blocks. At some point further on in time, I arranged the blocks as you see here and added the border using an artistic whole-cloth batik print. Then as usual the top sat around for a while. Eventually I partially quilted it and put the binding on it - last year sometime - and last weekend I finished the quilting and added a label. It is for Cathy, and I named it Sunset Colors 16-patch. (The original Sunset Watercolor quilt is meant for Cindy, but it still needs a sleeve to hang on the wall - after two years finished - sigh.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A few more boxes

I had made this box to give to Arthur's mom, but unwisely tried to transport it folded into a box. I could have taken it apart and flattened the units. But I didn't, and two of the sides were torn, so I made her a different box when I got to Denmark. I found the torn bits a few days ago and replaced them. The top is pastel and the bottom is deep colors. Below the box is upside down.

I made a couple of boxes for my professors at the end of last year. This one was for the conservative one, so I used conservative colors.
This one has colors that remind me of Mexico. My final project for this professor's class was on credit alternatives in Mexico.

Origami Wrap Up

I started this origami quilt over five years ago. At the same time, I had made another one for the UUAC auction. Long time in the works, on my list to finish all that time. So much for the list. All I needed was a few days off, and nothing to supersede it in the pecking order of UFOs.

Here is the dual, a bit more cheerful with red joints instead of purple ones. But the red paper fades, and the purple is my own paper that I made at Origamido studio.
I had a few stars left over, joined with regular gray and gold origami paper. The stars themselves are cut from large sheets of paper that I buy wherever I can find it.